On January 3, ACA hosted a talk by Professor Frank Wu on “Asian Americans and the Future of Civil Rights.” The event took place at the Mira Mesa Public Library, and over fifty people attended the talk.
Press here for the report in Chinese.
Professor Wu currently holds the position of Distinguished Professor at University of California Hastings College of Law. He previously served as Chancellor and Dean at the school.
Professor Wu also serves as the Chairman of Committee 100, which is made up of prominent Chinese Americans. The twin missions of C100 are promoting good relations between the US and China, and encouraging the civic engagement of Chinese Americans.
Previously Professor Wu was a law professor for a decade at Howard University, a historically Black college. This experience offered him many unique perspectives of race in the U.S.
At his talk, Professor Wu spent much of the time sharing how the Vincent Chin murder in 1982 became a pivotal moment in his life – an event that he claims sparked his identity formation as an “Asian American.”
Vincent Chin was a ‘regular’ blue collar worker who was beaten to death by two white men in Detroit at the height of the Japanese auto boom and recession in the United States. Chin was mistaken as Japanese and blamed for stealing American jobs, and was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat. Although the Chin’s killers never denied the killing, they received a plea deal of a $3,000 fine and probation - no prison sentence. This egregious event galvanized Asian Americans to act urgently around racism in the U.S. Though Professor Wu grew up being the victim of racial slurs a multitude of times, it wasn’t until this moment that he became activated to think critically about his position as an Asian American. Racial slurs go beyond jokes and teases, and speak more toward the system of power and privilege in America.
While researching the history of Asian Americans, he found out there were only two books at his college library at Johns Hopkins University. So, he decided to write one himself. In 2002, he published his book – Yellow, Race in America Beyond Black and White. In this book, he made two main points:
Race in America is beyond a Black vs. White issue. The conversation and activism around racism must be complicated to uplift many voices who are constantly silenced.
Racism is not just the KKK and the lynchings of Black people. Racism can be much more subtle and covert. It can be guised by a compliment like “your English is actually very good!” A notion of surprise that you’re not like the “other” Asians.
In his talk, Professor Wu also commented on special roles that Asian Americans can play in the United States:
“Due to our background, we can better sympathize with both the Black and the White views on racism. We can serve as a bridge between the different races. Building coalitions requires sacrifices, compromises and hard work.”
“No other country in the history has risen so rapidly with such a large population as China. As Asian Americans, we may be frequently questioned as where our loyalty lies with our native country or the United States. There are studies on the possibility of a military war between China and the United States right now. Let us do our part to explain the different perspectives to both cultures to reduce misunderstanding. A war is avoidable.”
During the Q&A session, an audience member commented that he had hopes that the professor would consider going into politics as he would definitely pledge his vote for him.
Another audience member remarked that the Asian American community is becoming increasingly divided and that most people identify as “progressive” or “conservative” as opposed to “Asian,” and asked Professor Wu what could possibly unite us, especially considering the current polarized socio-political context. Professor Wu responded that we must create spaces in which we can disagree respectfully but still form commonalities with each other to go forward with a collective action. As the professor was commenting how our country is moving toward future generations becoming more racially “mixed,” an audience member resonated with this statement and described how her own family is Black, White, and Asian, and that Chinese people must actively combat the ways in which we are complicit in racism.
The last question was asked by a college student who was wondering how we could build coalitions and draw attention towards issues faced by Asian Americans. The professor believed that we must build solidarity with one another by showing support for each other’s causes – this can be done even as simply as showing up to other organization’s events.
At the end of his talk, Professor Wu challenged us to have a “race of kindness” in our community. He believed that most people in the world are genuinely nice and will reciprocate kindness and goodness to each other. And he ended by asking people to ponder how we can build our community in which everyone can flourish to their potential.
The event lasted almost two hours, and the audience were obviously not ready to leave. Following the talk, many asked to post for pictures with Professor Wu. To many, this was a thought-provoking and memorable night.
Alliance of Chinese Americans San Diego (ACA) is a nonprofit (501c3 pending) organization dedicated to serving the Chinese community of San Diego. ACA assists Chinese newcomers in achieving the American Dream, by working to create and maintain an inclusive, diverse, and harmonious region. ACA promotes policies that advance its core values - equality, freedom, and justice - and advocates on behalf of every individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.